Unveiling the Dark Side of Sand Mining Global Impact Revealed

unveiling the dark side of sand mining global impact revealed.jpg Science

In a world where concrete is the second most widely used substance after water, the relentless demand for sand, a crucial ingredient in its production, is wreaking havoc on our marine ecosystems. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has sounded the alarm, revealing that an average of 6 billion tons of sand are extracted from the seafloor every year. This staggering amount, equivalent to over 1 million dump trucks of sand per day, is utilized not only for manufacturing concrete and glass, but also for creating artificial beaches and reinforcing eroding coastlines. However, as UNEP warns, this pace of extraction is becoming increasingly unsustainable, placing immense pressure on both marine life and coastal communities.

Pascal Peduzzi, director of a UNEP center for analytics known as GRID-Geneva, compared this crisis to deforestation or overfishing, where the rate of resource consumption surpasses its rate of replenishment. As sea levels rise and shorelines shrink, communities are resorting to dredging sand from the seafloor to restore their beaches. However, the future may see a significant reduction in the availability of such sand for coastal defenses. Furthermore, when sand extraction occurs in rivers, it results in less sediment reaching the coastlines that desperately need it. The environmental toll doesn’t end there, with the removal of seabed sand leading to the obliteration of marine life and potential irreversible damage to the ecosystem.

Global Sand Dredging Crisis: UNEP Sounds Alarm

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has issued a stern warning regarding the escalating rate of sand extraction from the seafloor. According to a new global data platform from UNEP, we extract an astonishing 6 billion tons of sand from marine environments each year. This translates into more than 1 million dump trucks of sand being mined daily for uses such as making concrete and glass, creating artificial beaches, or replenishing eroding coastlines. This unsustainable rate of extraction is exerting immense pressure on marine life and coastal communities.

A Sustainability Crisis

Pascal Peduzzi, director of a UNEP centre for analytics called GRID-Geneva, compared the crisis to deforestation or overfishing, where resource usage outpaces its replenishment. "It’s not sustainable," he proclaimed, "The amount of sand that we are withdrawing from the environment is considerable and has large impacts." Concrete, which is made from sand, is the second most widely consumed substance in the world after water. Moreover, silica sand is a crucial component in the manufacturing of glass and semiconductor chips. The ever-increasing demand for artificial shorelines and city expansions further escalates the need for sand.

Environmental Impacts and Future Risks

The insatiable appetite for sand is unfortunately taking a devastating toll on marine environments. As sea levels rise and shorelines diminish, many communities resort to marine sand dredging to restore beaches. However, UNEP warns that future sand availability for such coastal defenses may be threatened. Furthermore, when companies extract sand from rivers, less sediment is available for coastlines that need it.

The environmental impact doesn’t stop there. The extraction process, which involves removing the sea floor, destroys marine life. Peduzzi warned, "If too much sand is extracted, life may not recover." Noise pollution and changes to water turbidity can also harm marine life.

Monitoring the Crisis

To keep track of global sand mining, UNEP has developed the Marine Sand Watch, a data platform that employs artificial intelligence and an Automatic Identification System to pinpoint dredging vessels and map sand mining worldwide. UNEP, under a resolution adopted last year, has tasked GRID-Geneva with deepening its understanding of sand extraction to support global policy.

The data reveals that some of the most intense sand dredging activities occur along China’s coastline and the US East Coast. This could pose significant risks to both countries’ renewable energy plans, as shifting sand dunes can disrupt offshore wind turbines.


The global sand dredging crisis underscores the urgent need for sustainable resource management. The effects of uncontrolled sand extraction are far-reaching, impacting not just marine life, but also coastal communities and the global economy. There is a pressing need for robust policies and strategies to mitigate the environmental impact, regulate extraction activities, and promote sustainable alternatives. As the world races towards a sustainable future, sand, an often overlooked resource, needs to be part of the conversation.

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